Column: A path forward for BC’s forest products industry
November 5, 2019 By Susan Yurkovich
Forestry has long been a cornerstone of the B.C. economy, supporting 140 communities and many thousands of families throughout the province.
Today, those of us who are involved in the sector know that forestry is an industry in transition in B.C. While we have always had to manage through market and price volatility, we are currently facing something of a “perfect storm” – an array of market and operating challenges, along with a structural shift in the availability and cost of fibre.
What’s causing the current crisis? Available wood supply in the interior of B.C. is dropping following years of impact from the mountain pine beetle infestation and devastating wildfires. On the coast, the harvest has decreased over time as significant amounts of land have been set aside for non-timber values, putting pressure on the working forest land base.
When combined with large areas designated as conservation zones and new protected areas, the working forest land base has been significantly reduced. This has increased competition for logs, driving up log costs. Greater regulatory complexity and uncertainty around access to fibre are also having an impact. Today, B.C. has become a high cost producer just at the time we are facing volatile market prices, punitive U.S. tariffs, and increasing global competition.
As an industry, we have no choice but to make the difficult decision to rebalance our milling capacity to match the lower level of sustainable harvest. As we do so, workers and communities need to be supported. Then, we need to ensure that the facilities that remain have secure access to enough fibre to run consistently and efficiently. But there is much more that we can do.
Smart choices, made now, can help attract the investment required to secure a bright future for our forest industry.
COFI recently set out some ideas that we believe can help us get to a better future for the sector in a document, “Smart Future: A Path Forward for B.C.’s Forest Industry.” Some ideas are not new. Some ideas can be implemented by industry, and some will require government action. All will require a collective effort.
The 60 choices for a better future are outlined in five areas:
- Invest in, and protect, our working forest land base. We need to have a clear picture of the forest area that is protected for conservation, and what area is available as a “working forest.” Industry needs certainty about the size of our working forest in order to make the investments that secure jobs and communities.
- Have smart rules that protect the environment and encourage investment. B.C.’s regulatory structure should keep forests healthy while also helping businesses be successful. We need robust, but simple and predictable rules that care for the environment and create the conditions in which business can compete.
- Strengthen participation of Indigenous people and community partnerships. One in 11 forestry workers in B.C. are Indigenous, a rate higher than in any other B.C. resource sector, but there is still room to grow. Strong partnerships, community forest agreements, and workforce readiness programs all have a role to play.
- Double down on market and product diversification. We must aggressively pursue new markets and customers around the globe, and continue to develop new high-value products.
- Become the global hub for expertise in low-carbon, green building. This is not the time to be shy. We have been leaders in building with wood. We need to leverage that expertise by becoming the centre of excellence for green building.
Our hope is that collectively we can make choices now to set the industry up for a smart future. The industry will look different, but it can thrive and continue to provide skilled jobs and generate economic benefits for workers, communities and First Nations across the province.
Learn more about COFI’s recommendations at www.cofi.org and help us to support a bright future for forestry in B.C.
Susan Yurkovich is the president and CEO of the BC Council of Forest Industries.
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